"This is the play of the moment," "Dreamers: Aquí y Allá" ("Here and There") co-director Andrea Caban said. "We as human beings learn from story. We connect to each other with story."

The play — running Feb. 16 to 25 at California State University's Studio Theatre (1250 Bellflower Blvd.) — is a California Repertory Production featuring students and adults who were brought to America by their parents as children, but don't have legal status. It's also part of the company's "Devising Democracy Series," a four-year-long project covering current issues. 

The story is relevant now, Caban said, because the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program is set to end March 5, but legal and political actions could delay it. Deferred action delays removal of those who entered the country as children, allowing them a temporary legal stay. Additionally, about 40% of Caban's students are Latina, she said, which made offering the play even more important.

"Aquí Y Allá"

Leslie Valdez (left), Jose Vargas, Marc Young, and Natalia Caraballo perform a scene in a dress rehearsal of "Aquí Y Allá."

In the summer of 2016, Caban said she partnered with CSULB ethnic studies program/California-Mexico Project coordinator professor Armando Vazquez-Ramos. The program offers students the chance to visit their birthplace and return to the U.S. legally on an advanced parole with an educational pass, and become eligible for citizenship through marriage, Vazquez-Ramos said. He's taken six groups, with more than 160 dreamers from all over the U.S. since 2014, he said.

When he returned from a trip in 2016, Caban said she wanted to produce a play about it, Vazquez-Ramos said. Besides that, he said students have had to write reflection papers on how the trip impacted their lives, which he hopes to compile into a book by March.

"I'm really excited because of the timing," Vazquez-Ramos said. "It's a call to action. We'll be sending postcards to Trump."

After the play, he said people would be invited to write postcards, which would be mailed to President Donald Trump as a protest. 

"Where the hell is the student movement?" Vazquez-Ramos asked. "Where the hell are the faculty?... I confess, I'm contextualizing to the 1960s," he said of his days protesting various political actions.

Caban and master of fine arts pedagogy student/co-director Julie Granata-Hunicutt were among those who accompanied Vazquez-Ramos and 35 dreamers last summer, he said, with the theater arts department folks spending about a week in Mexico. The theater group also rode the bus across the border from Mexico with them, he said. 

Upon arrival stateside, Caban said theater arts students conducted research and submitted about 800 pages of text to her. 

"I took it over the (winter 2017) break and synthesized it into a play," Caban said. "We cast a group of students (three of whom were on last summer's trip) in various stages of those dreamers."  

Natalia Caraballo, a Hispanic, was among those on the trip. Although not a dreamer, Caraballo said Caban asked her if she would go on the trip, as it was an opportunity to write a play. 

"We got off so easy being born here," Caraballo said. "They (dreamers) really had no idea if they'd be able to come back."

Caraballo also mentioned the dreamers had backup plans in Mexico, should they not be allowed re-entry. 

The piece is a countdown, from when President Barack Obama announced he wanted to expand DACA to March 5, when DACA is scheduled to be cancelled, Caban said. The play's end is whatever happened that day, she said. She told actor Charles Denton, who plays Congressman Alan Lowenthal, to be flexible, she said of the ending. 

"I said, 'Let's leave a little wiggle room to see what happens," Caban said. 

The whole company pitched in on the play, Denton said, as they do on any concept. The story includes showing what it looks like for dreamers crossing the border, not knowing if they'd be admitted back to the U.S. He also said it depicts what it's like to be undocumented.

"It's not really about DACA or dreamers," Denton said, adding decisions made about it either would impact the entire country. 

Denton also said play attendees likely would have a change of heart.

"When you see things in front of your eyes, it changes your perspective," Denton said. 

"These are the human stories we want to put in the play," Vazquez-Ramos said. "Our program is very unlikely to ever happen again."

Dreamers

Karen Ragazzo looks out on Cuernavaca, Morelos, Mexico, during a 2015 California-Mexico Dreamers Study Abroad Program. 

Tickets start at $15 for students, faculty and staff; $17 for military, ages 55 and older; and $20 for general admission. 

Performances include 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays (except Feb. 22), 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays (except Feb. Feb. 18), and 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 22.

Paid parking is available on the corner of Seventh Street and East Campus Drive.

For more information and tickets, visit web.csulb.edu/colleges/cota/theatre/on-stage-now/index.html, email tickets@calrep.org, or call (562) 985-5526.

Emily Thornton can be reached at ethornton@gazettes.com

Emily is a staff writer covering higher education and other various topics for Gazette Newspapers. She has a background in weekly and daily newspapers and a bachelor’s in communication from La Sierra University.

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